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Millicent Fenwick, left, and Marge Roukema in 1980.

Number of women in NJ House delegation could jump in 2020

9 of 12 NJ districts have women congressional candidates

By David Wildstein, December 08 2019 9:51 pm

New Jersey could see a spike in the number of women in the congressional delegation after next year’s election.

Women candidates are running for Congress in 9 of the state’s 12 districts in 2020, so far – although most face an uphill fight on a good day.

New Jersey has elected 307 men and 7  women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.  So you don’t have to reach for a calculator, that’s 97.8% men and 2.2 % women.   If you start the clock in 1922 — the first election a woman was eligible to run in New Jersey – it’s 111 men and seven women (94%-6%).

Between 2003 and 2015, the New Jersey congressional delegation was all men.  That streak began following the retirement of Rep. Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood) and ended after Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) was elected in 2014.

The election of Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) put two women in the state’s congressional delegation for the first time since 1981 and 1982, when Roukema and Millicent Fenwick (R-Bernardsville) served together.

Fenwick and Rep. Helen Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) served in the House from 1975 until Meyner lost her seat in 1978.

Only two other women have represented New Jersey in Congress: Mary T. Norton (D-Jersey City) from 1925 to 1951, and Florence Dwyer (R-Elizabeth) from 1957 to 1973.

New Jersey has never had more than two women in the congressional delegation at the same time.

It’s possible that the number could jump even higher.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) faces a formidable challenge from Republican Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder, in the 3rd district.  Gibbs could be the first GOP woman in the New Jersey House delegation since Roukema retired eighteen years ago.

In the 2nd district, it is increasingly looking as though political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison will take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) in the 2nd district Democratic primary.

Both could be the first women to represent a New Jersey congressional district south of I-195.

* Rosemary Becchi, a former U.S. Senate Finance Committee tax counsel, wants to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) in the 7th district.  The front runner for the GOP nomination is Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield).

* Former U.S. Department of State official Stephanie Schmid and former United Nations staffer Christine Conforti are seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), the lone Republican in the New Jersey congressional delegation.   The 4th district has become even more Republican since Smith won his 20th term in 2018.

* Claire Gustafson, a former Collingswood Board of Education member, is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden).  After just one week in the race, she won the Burlington Republican organization line against Josh Duvall, whose been campaigning for more than a year.

* Glen Rock Councilwoman Arati Kreibich is challenging two-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) from the left. in the 5th district Democratic primary.  Gottheimer, the human fundraising machine, is over $5 million in the bank and has already been endorsed by 93% of the local elected officials and Democratic municipal chairs in Bergen County.   Dana DiRisio, who spent ten years as an aide to Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage), who was unseated by Gottheimer in 2016, is seeking the Republican nomination.

* In the 9th district, clean energy investor Zina Spezakis is mounting a primary fight against Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson).  Pascrell is one of North Jersey’s most popular politicians.

Watson Coleman and Sherrill are expected to face male Republican challengers.

Of the seven women who have represented New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives, three of them defeated male incumbents.

Dwyer unseated Rep. Harrison Williams (D-Plainfield) in 1956; he won an open U.S. Senate seat two years later.  Meyner defeated Rep. Joseph Maraziti (R-Boonton) in 1974, and Roukema took out Rep. Andy Maguire (D-Ridgewood) in 1980.

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